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Darko Soković, Managing Partner, Propulsion

Serbian Citizens Recognize Spin

Propulsion, a regional organization with more than 180 associates across Europe, collaborates with brands, developmental partners and governments on programs that each year invest millions of dollars in creating positive social change

Here Propulsion’s Darko Soković speaks to CorD about innovative communications, a project being implemented together with USAID, social impact, “new literacy”, the development of technology and digitalization, new media, spin and other phenomena related to information and disinformation.

Propulsion is an organization that works in the areas of innovative communications and social impact, but what does that actually mean? Who are your clients? With whom do you collaborate?

The company that I run celebrated its tenth anniversary this January. If someone had told me, at the time we founded it, that we would celebrate 10 years of doing business, I wouldn’t have believed them. However, anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles isn’t for business.

As a full-service communication organization, we specialize in social impact campaigns and projects. We are the leading supplier of social impact communications in the Adria region and wider today, working with brands, developmental actors, and governments on transformative campaigns that are worth more than a million dollars a year. We boost critical thinking, problem-solving, digital and media literacy, preventing radicalization, and other crucial communication skills and programs in an ever-shifting world.

Your “Media Initiatives and Partnerships Support” program, which you’re implementing in partnership with USAID, is recognized publicly under the name “New literacy”. What is it all about and where did the new literacy come from? Is it linked to technology development and digitalization?

This program relies on a new, yet so logical reality that we are resolutely introducing: We invest huge efforts and resources into understanding the people we address – their habits, needs, ideas, values, ways of getting informed, how they mourn, and how they celebrate. To that end, we constantly conduct a comprehensive research series that forms the basis of all our programming decisions. The results are also regularly published at novapismenost.rs, because we believe that verified information that provides the basis to make the right decisions must be available to everyone.

In a four-year program cycle, we work closely with the Ministry of Culture and Information and other stakeholders, boosting critical thinking and media and information literacy skills among parents, teachers, public servants, influencers, and business leaders alike, by tailoring custom-made manuals, training modules, and campaigns. These will be systematically embedded in existing systems and curricula, while new approaches will also be created. In 2021, the program strongly supports teachers, students and the education system to strengthen their digital capacities, while also connecting students with some trailblazing companies and their leaders. It is important that our youth sees the future that is actually happening today in Serbia, both in school and in the community, so that they are ready for everything this century will bring.

It’s good that people know how to recognize fake news, but when you ask them where they get their information, they cite the same media outlets that post fake news

What has been shown by new research, or rather what is shown by the “Media Literacy Index in Serbia”? Are we improving; are we seeing a change in our interests, the topics that attract our attention, sources of information, etc.?

Here’s a piece of exclusive information for your loyal readers: 67 percent of teenagers in Serbia, or youth aged from 12 to 17, have TikTok accounts. What does this mean for someone who’s a parent, for example, or someone who’s a leader? Would you, for example, be among those parents who made a fuss when one Belgrade municipality brought a successful TikToker athlete to give a lecture to children at school? The children, clearly, went crazy with joy, while the parents were left shocked and offended.

Although you or I hadn’t even reliably heard of TikTok until around a year ago, two percent of all our citizens now say that it is the main platform they use to inform themselves about the world around them. That may seem trivial, but data from the research show that only one percent more than them (three percent) use Twitter for the same purpose. Citizens place the greatest trust in internet portals (24 percent of respondents), while just two percent of people in Serbia trust the press. However, just for us to be informed, as many as four percent of all our people trust influencers the most!

As you perhaps already know, the Media Literacy Index represents the perception of citizens in terms of how they handle the media environment, the extent to which they check sources, and how careful, focused and aware of possible sources they are. When it comes to Serbia, the average media literacy grade is 3.91, on a scale of 0 to 6, which means that we are very good. Citizens and businesses have a high level of understanding of the media and digital environment, are competent in use of the digital channels available to them, are capable of recognizing spin and fake news, and are above the European average in many areas.

Will the education system also be in charge of improving “media literacy”? Should children be taught the basics of media literacy while still in kindergarten?

The issue of media and digital literacy is really critical, first and foremost for the education system, but also for other segments of our society. We live in a time when the changes taking place around us can become obstacles if we lack the knowledge to understand and use them. It seems to me that the responsible and wise use of new technologies is something that isn’t problematized enough.

Citizens and businesses have a high level of understanding of the media and digital environment, and are above the European average in many areas

Given the huge percentage of citizens who choose to get informed through social networks, could it be said that those same citizens are responsible for shaping public opinion, for intentionally and inadvertently disseminating real and fake news, information and disinformation?

Technological development and its complexity, as well as the subsequent technological gap, result in a lack of understanding of systemic and individual solutions as essential premises for the informed citizen. High-quality information is one of the axioms of democracy, and understanding media operations is a prerequisite to act on the merits of the content they produce. In that process, media and information literacy becomes an instrument and precondition for understanding the media environment and quality information. However, the media’s loss of citizens’ trust is certainly an alarming indicator of the situation in this area. Admittedly, it’s a good thing that people know how to recognize fake news, but when you ask them where they get their information, they cite the same media outlets that post fake news.

This brings us to the question of whether we, as citizens, want to be adequately informed. We still have to work more on our skills, but we aren’t in such a bad position. We are doing well when it comes to in interpreting the information we receive, and are only slightly worse when it comes to creating new content, and we really have huge responsibility in that sense.

Despite all the advantages, coping without an ability to understand can lead to numerous challenges. If you are seeking consolation, rest assured that you’re not the only one for whom everything isn’t really that clear. That’s why we’re here, with our program and our partners, to together resolve all doubts and help clear the view ahead of us, in order for us to know where we’re going.

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